Did 2K Just Introduce Gambling to NBA 2K20?

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by Badger Nimahson

I woke up this morning to the internet going into complete meltdown over the new NBA 2K20 My Team trailer and the introduction of casino-style games in order to improve your team. But is that really the case?

A vast portion of the My Team trailer focuses on casino-style games such as a slot machine, pachinko, card packs and a prize wheel. It portrays players getting excited at massive wins that greatly improve their teams.

So have 2K Games taking microtransactions to the next level and degraded gaming even further? Or is the commotion just the outraged internet brigade overreacting? Let’s break it all down piece by piece, shall we?

The Problem

There are two arguments that are fuelling the outrage.

First off is that NBA 2K20 is a sports game. more specifically a basketball game and there is no place for casino-style games in the title.

What the hell does pachinko, slot machines and roulette have to do with basketball? Now I haven’t played or seen any pre-release version of NBA 2K20. Purely from the trailer alone, it looks like they have stuffed freemium mobile game mechanics into the game.

Secondly, and probably the biggest argument is that it is grooming small children for gambling. By having gambling (simulated or not) in a game that young children play is ethically and morally bankrupt.

The New Prize Modes

We pride ourselves on Honesty and Integrity, this is what we are at Stoffel Presents so lets dive into what the prize modes are exactly.

On Monday 26th August NBA 2K posted a dev blog to their Facebook page outlining all the new features of NBA 2K20

Slot Machine

The slot machine is an extra prize feature for the Tripple Threat Online game mode of NBA 2K20. Every time you win a game you are awarded a spin of the slot machine as explained by the devs below:

After every game in which your team pulls out a win, you will find yourself on a 3-reel slot machine with each gem color (Sapphire, Ruby, Amethyst, etc.) represented on each reel. If you match two gems of the same color, you’ll come away with some extra MTP on top of the MTP you earned from playing the game right beforehand. If you match all three gems on the reels, you win the Jackpot Prize for that color!

Prize wheel

NBA 2K20 Prize Wheel

The prize wheel, or roulette wheel, as it has been referred to by various internet commentators, is accessed either by Locker Codes or completing the weekly objectives in NBA 2K20. As far as I am aware (and please correct me if I am wrong) Locker Codes are free promotional codes issued regularly by 2K games.

There are two primary ways to gain access here. The first is via a Locker Code. In addition to Ball Drop locker codes (we’ll cover ball drop changes below!), we now have the ability to provide Prize Wheel spins, and will be doing so at various times throughout the year. This is easy, free content for you. The second way to gain access to the Prize Wheel is via the weekly grand prize that I noted up above in the Daily Login Prizes section.

Pachinko

NBA 2K20 Ball Drop

Ball Drop, or Pachinko as it as been referred to online, is awarded at the end of each game of Triple Threat Online. I have never played NBA2K19 but apparently, this is a feature from last year’s entry into the franchise and has been greatly improved this year.

The ball drop is significantly more enjoyable this year, and I find myself looking forward to it at the end of every played Triple Threat Online game!

Microtransactions

Now reading through the dev blog on Facebook there is no mention of microtransactions. It seems to imply that all these prize features can only be accessed via rewards for winning games.

In the trailer at the top of this post, you can clearly see that there are three different currencies in NBA 2K20. So there is obviously going to be microtransactions in some form or another.

The NBA 2K series has a dark and troubled history with using microtransactions. In case you are not aware here are just a few previous examples.

NBA 2K18 was vehemently attacked online for it charging virtual currency (that can only be purchased with real cash) for inane things like haircuts.

NBA 2K19 was also attacked for its use of virtual currency in making the online mode play to win.

It is pretty much nailed on the card packs will be able to be bought with card packs but as mentioned before the dev blog suggests that the prize mechanics are free and rewarded for wins.

At this point our news editor Jonathan Wilkie would like to point out that just because microtransactions are not in a game at launch. It doesn’t mean that they will not be added later.

Games such as Crash Team Racing and Sea of Thieves added microtransactions to their games AFTER launch. So just because the prize features are free at launch does not guarantee they will remain so for the entirety of the games life.

The Ethical Issue

Now the reason I have dissected every prize mode and how it is awarded is so that we could reach this point level headed and informed.

Technically it isn’t gambling if you are not risking anything. There is no risk involved in these prize modes because they are rewarded for winning games.

Another argument against these modes being gambling is more of a legal issue. In the UK it was recently decided by the gambling commission that Loot Boxes are NOT a form of gambling because you cant withdraw your winnings.

That may sound like a technicality but quite simply gambling is risk versus reward. No matter what you spend on loot boxes the prizes are purely digital. You cannot withdraw them into the real world so therefore you never technically “win”

Unlike online betting where you may deal exclusively in digital money, you can still transfer that digital money to your bank account and spend it on real-world products.

The Moral Issue

Whilst legally, loot boxes (and as EA recently described them, Surprise Game Mechanics) are not considered gambling there is growing unrest amongst parents that they simulate the same addictive process and groom young children to gamble.

I strongly believe that gaming needs regulation the same has bookmakers in the UK have to adhere to the Gamble Responsibly watchdog and have a legal responsibility to stop customers if they feel they are showing addictive behaviours.

The biggest moral issue with NBA 2K20 is that it has an ERSB rating of E and a PEGI rating of 3+. This is a massive surprise as the ESRB Teen rating clearly states “simulated gambling as a descriptor. I cannot fathom how this does not apply to NBA 2K20.

A rating of E means that the game is suitable to play for everyone and can be purchased by anyone of any age.

These “simulated” gamble mechanics will be available to young, impressionable children. Whether you argue that legally or technically they are not gambling modes it is still exposing small children to slot machines, roulette wheel and pachinko.

I have tried to be as impartial as I can throughout this article and give the points of contention as well as an explanation for them. However, as a parent, I find this abhorrent.

My two boys are now 19 and 15 so I have already had to deal with the issue of scratch cards, football betting etc with my eldest. It is hard to educate on when they are old enough to do what they want and the lure or of easy pulls at them.

Now imagine you are having that same conversation with a child who has been playing slot machines in a simulate manner since the age of 7.

We reached out to PEGI and received the following response:

NBA 2K20 slot machine
NBA 2K20 Pegi Response

Conclusion

In defence of 2K Games, I feel the internet backlash at casino-style games in NBA 2K20 is somewhat misinformed. Most of the arguments seem to be around the monetisation and “pay to win” mechanics that casino-style games will bring to the game.

This, in fact, is not the case (Yet -JW) as all the prize games are free and rewarded for winning at the actual online component of NBA 2K20.

Although the language used in the dev blog reads like someone with an addiction and glorifies the constant need to play and progress. The way it is formatted is quite unsettling.

Where 2K Games, and ESRB/PEGI, cannot be defended is the fact this will introduce young impressionable children to gambling mechanics. Yes, technically and legally they are not gambling but this is a form of gambling grooming.

The real outrage here is not the monetisation of gaming. As gamers, we are all responsible for that. We bought DLC, we allowed season passes, we allowed Loot Boxes and even worse we buy into the con that is early access. We did this to ourselves. We are responsible for allowing money-grabbing shady practices that milk gamers wallets.

But this must be where we draw the line. Our children will be exposed to gambling mechanics of slot machines, pachinko and roulette wheels. Throughout this article, I have tried to be measured and fair but here I cannot.

I do not care for technicalities or legalities. Our young children should not be exposed to slot machines or gambling mechanics of any kind. You wanna let your 10-year-old play Grand Theft Auto V? fine. do it that is your right as a parent.

The ESRB and PEGI exist to inform non-gaming parents what themes are in the game’s content so they can decide what their children are exposed to. If as a non-gaming parent you are against your children being exposed to slot machines and see the E rating on a game you trust in that certification and that body. You allow your child to play that game.

I am not sure who is worse here. 2K Games for putting these mechanics in a game or the ESRB for giving such a ridiculous rating.

I reached out to 2K Games for comment and at time of print have not received one. I will update this article accordingly if and when they respond.

As a result of this story coming to light our news editor, JW is boycotting any and all 2K games as he feels these practices are unsuitable for his two young children. Do you agree with him?

We would love to hear from our readers. what do you think about this controversy? Are these blatant gambling mechanics? Will stop you from buying 2K titles? Do you think it is a whole storm over nothing? as always let us know in the comments below